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The video game spinoff defies expectations by being pretty damned good, both as a tie-in and as a What If?…/Elseworlds style story.

When a company publishes a comic book based on a video game, it’s not supposed to be some grand affair; just a few issues to promote the game before it disappears into the ether. It’s incredibly rare is for such books to have a life of its own after players forget about the original game, but that’s exactly what Injustice: Gods Among Us has done. Long after NetherRealm Studios stopped producing DLC, DC Comics is still publishing Injustice, currently sitting on 25+ issues, annual specials, and three graphic novel collections, the latest being Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year Two.

Thankfully, Injustice isn’t just some publishing fluke; it’s one of the better dark superhero comics DC is putting out right now. Starting from the common trope of an evil, parallel universe Justice League, Injustice guides readers through Superman’s descent from the very beginning, while each hero slowly sacrifices their moral principles. What’s amazing is that Injustice is wholly dedicated to drawing most of DC’s continuity into its premise, which has allowed the series expand into Year Two and provide a bigger cosmic scope than the game ever did.

Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Two Vol. 1
Writer: Tom Taylor
Art by: Bruno Redondo, Julien Hugonnard-Bert, Mike S. Miller, Saleem Crawford
Cover art: Jheremy Raapack with David Lopez
Release Date October 1, 2014
Price: $22.99

Injustice: Year Two opens with Superman having seemingly secured his reign over Earth. He’s broken Batman’s back, driven other heroes into hiding, and straight-up murdered Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter. But now the Justice League has bigger problems to worry about. The Guardians of Oa are deeply concerned about Superman’s actions, and have sent Ganthet to investigate. This action sparks a new conflict between the Justice League and the entire Green Lantern Corps, prompting Sinestro himself to step in and take sides.

Perhaps the number one reason Injustice succeeds is that it’s a comic book story first, and a video game adaptation second. Its creators are fully committed to exploring Superman’s impact on every element of the DC universe, from street-level vigilantes, to cosmic superheroes, to characters from magical realms. The story has become just as big as any crisis event, and does an great job balancing developments in a dramatically engaging way. The only difference is that no reboot or editorial recon is going to save Injustice‘s characters; everyone has to deal with the permanent consequences and fallout of everyone else’s actions.

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In other words, most of the heroes you know and love are going to be brutally killed or completely changed. Fan-favorite characters and obscure figures from DC continuity are introduced only to be wiped out, sometimes mere panels later. It’s an approach that caters to shock value storytelling, but for the most part, Year Two‘s deaths add some dramatic weight to the story. Not to mention it creates a Game of Thrones effect of no character being sacred, especially those who won’t appear in the video game.. Meanwhile, characters who do stick around undergo believable changes as they sacrifice morals to achieve their goals.

And these changes don’t happen all at once; for the most part, the Justice League still think of themselves as heroes. Everyone wants to believe in Superman’s vision for a better world, but haven’t quite clued in that they’re making everything worse. With every issue, the Justice League compromises itself more and more until you can’t recognize who the heroes are anymore. In Year Two, Hal Jordan is the best example of this, as he reaches the point where he’s not only betraying the Green Lanterns, but abandoning Black Canary’s friendship after Green Arrow’s death. Even Marvel’s Civil War event failed to tear heroes apart so completely.

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But Superman himself remains Injustice‘s tragic hero. Even in his current state, he hasn’t completely forgotten his human side; Superman’s interactions with Black Canary and Commissioner Gordon suggest he’s still concerned for former allies. But he’s also unwilling to take any criticism, and is too emotionally broken to grasp the damage he’s causing. In a way, that makes him more dangerous because it’s almost impossible for anyone to speak with him rationally. Once you get over the strangeness of Superman not behaving… well, like Superman… it’s easier to feel sympathy for him as a flawed character descending into madness.

Even knowing how this story ends, Injustice manages to engage and surprise you. If you’ve played the game, you know that Hal Jordan joins the Sinestro Corps, and that Earth’s resistance movement uses “super-pills” to give themselves stronger abilities. But the journey to get there has so many twists and turns that everything feels fresh and new. Like how Commissioner Gordon influences Earth’s resistance movement, or how Jordon becomes disillusioned with the Guardians when he learns they visited Krypton. It also lends Injustice with an impressive tragic weight; Superman’s rule could have been prevented just by one person acting differently, but conspiring circumstances prevent that ever occurring.

Bottom Line: Injustice: Gods Among Us Year Two Vol. 1 is a great continuation of the comic book series, raising the stakes without sacrificing previous character developments. Injustice actually feels like a comic book universe instead of a video game setting, filled with flawed versions of some of our favorite heroes. It’s definitely one of the best video game-related adaptations in years, even if it’s still running a year after the fact.

Recommendation: Did you like the Injustice video game, or simply enjoy “What If” superhero stories? If yes, read this series right up to Year Three. You won’t be disappointed.

[rating=4.5]

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